Friday, October 27, 2006

Whoo dang!

That's sort of a tasteless title actually, but that's how some tourists pronounce it, so whatever.

What I actually refer to is the Wudang Lamasery out in the brushier environs of Inner Mongolia, almost a 2-hr drive from where we are. I went there this morning. On the one hand I enjoyed getting out and seeing something new, on the other hand, I feel like we were ripped off by a friend of ours, which sucks a bit.

So yesterday, Alice informed me that we'd been invited to the monastery, which was cool, as long as we paid the gas to get there. She seemed sort of uneager about the gas part, but I knew Russ really wanted to go there, and I didn't want to keep turning these things down, so I agreed. Now... it probably would never have occurred to me to visit at this time of year. I had planned on going at some point, but never would I have opened my mouth to say "let's go tomorrow." Which this person did. I was a bit annoyed at having to get up so early, but I always am, so whatever.

We set out around 8 and had breakfast. I ordered some funky soymilk and was a little depressed about that, but moved past it pretty quickly. Then I passed out in the van, waking up a few times to stare out the window at some prime bouldering rock and some really crappy rock, neither of which I'll probably have a chance to see again before the spring, and again to chuck in Y10 for a toll booth, and to watch the introduction of gas into the van. Here's where I was astonished. So we agreed to pay gas for the excursion. Russ actually did this part. What I didn't expect was that we'd be asked to pay for an entire tank of gas (I'm feeling it was the entire tank). The total came to like Y105 and I'm feeling like we didn't use all of that on this trip. Now, I'm realizing that I was partly asleep and that there's no way now of knowing how much gas was left before we filled up, but... well, it was weird.

The monastery apparently raised their prices since the folks from my guidebook came by this way. It was a Y45 entrance fee, which was kind of a surprise for a monastery, but actually now I think it was worth it, because there were 9 different buildings to visit. I borrowed a camera and got to snap some shots at last. You're not supposed to take pictures inside monstery building, though I accidentally did inside one where I didn't see the No Cameras sign until I came out. But I got some nice compositions of pretty much all there was to see outside-- mountains, trees, shrines, living quarters, ramparts, exteriors, etc. When I'll see those, I'm not entirely sure, but they exist somewhere in this world, which is a relief.

We stopped for lunch on the way back, and I ended up paying for this meal which I think I ate very little of, but whatevs, though it never occurred to me to ask for the leftovers, which bothers me now.

I talked to Alice about the whole thing later and we were both like... were we taken advantage of for gas money? And we just sort of went through various reasons we were uncomfortable in general. I'm not really good at getting into details of this sort of thing without sounding paranoid, so I won't bother. But anyways it was odd, and I probably will start by refusing most offers from this person in the future. It's not that they're not... nice... it's just that I don't have an overwhelming sense of trust in them, so I'm going to follow my instincts some more since that usually works for me.

At a shop outside to monastery, I bought a really nice ring (well I think so) for too much money. Y30, but it's not entirely my fault. I mean, I have a fundamental problem with bargaining to begin with, and that's that I only open bargaining on items that I want and I don't want to walk away without it. This has been a real problem only once before when I didn't actually want an item, but because I was curious and asked the price, I accidentally matched wills with a hard-boiled seller and paid waaaay more for a bracelet (that I often wore afterwards, because dammit I paid for it) than I would have wanted to. But anyways, Y20 seemed about right, but I was willing to settle on Y25-27 andI'm pretty sure I could have gotten it down to there since the asking price was only Y45. Person who was with me though sort of cramped my style though and I had to settle on Y30 if I wanted it. So damn. But I like the ring a lot.

More about the monastery's buildings-- they were really cool, it shows that they're being taken care of. Most of the walls are covered in intricate Buddhist artwork which made me want to learn more about the symbolism in it. In one of the display halls was a large sand painting that was just awesome. I want to do sand painting.

I imagine that the scenery is really something in the right season, but again, I wouldn't have chosen myself to come this time of year, when most of the trees were on their way to being totally bare. Also it was really cold this morning, and that put me in a pretty nasty mood, though I'm pretty sure I did a good job of hiding it. Seriously.

So yeah, when pictures come in (I assume they will), I'll put them up!


OK, I have Skyping capabilities now, so if you have a microphone, skype with me! Tried it already and it's muy fun. I wasn't feeling particularly thoughtful or creative at the time, so my username is kat.pan

Go figure. Anyways, I probably miss hearing your voice, so yeah, lemme know if you can use any kind of voice chat service (Skype! Since I've already downloaded it and everything).

Sassy Girls

Anyways, that's why no updates this week... I was borrowing Alice's laptop for e-mail and stuff, but actually a lot of stuff automatically comes up Chinese and I couldn't figure out how to change it (and also figured it would be more polite not to). And also I didn't want to always be on her computer, so my lessons this week were really boring (but I only had to teach twice!)

So after being so pissed off last weekend, I just wanted to sleep in. But Monday was my introduction to... dun dun dun... the kindergarten! Yes, I will most likely be starting at a kindergarten soon. I promise you, only about 5 of those students will hear a single word I say (I counted) but they're cute? I was also informed sorta last minuted that I'd have to teach a short lesson, which annoyed me because I had sort of expressed an interest in not having classes sprung on me last-minute anymore. Sort of explicitly, actually. But I see that this time it really couldn't have been helped because they needed to see how I'd behave in front of so many kindergarteners. They had a book they were using though, so I just did some reviewing out of it. The teacher there said I did well, but I dunno if she saw what I saw... a lot of ADD in that room. There was just one loud little boy who shouted the answers to my questions in repeat mode until I gave the answer so it *seemed* like more kids were paying attention. But anyway. That was really early Monday morning.

Then Tuesday morning they cancelled my class at the high school because the students in my class were taking part in some other activity. Russ's class was still on, but I got the afternoon off which was totally awesome.

So what have I been doing with my free time?

If you've been spending [too] much time on facebook the past few days, it's possible you'd have noticed that I've developed a serious affinity for Korean melodrama. My mom spent half of last year trying to get me to watch some Korean show that she and my aunt were really into, but I was mostly uninterested in even approaching that. First of all, do I even speak Korean? No. Korean is perhaps the EA language that mystifies me the most. The words look like really hard math and even after watching My Sassy Girl (widely beloved Korean romantic comedy) to the degree that I have, I'm still unable to even repeat the names of the main characters.

But the Korean TV, it's really popular here. Why is that? Because they know drama. They know comedy. Also it's generally accepted that Korean people are very nice to look at. No joke. A question we posed in classes early on was, "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?" Some folks said things like Germany for the economy, Switzerland for the watches, and so on, but there were also some women who were all about Korea for the good food and beautiful people. And it's not like I disagree. So there's one very important point about Korean TV-- the casting directors know what they're doing.

One day at dinner, Connie told us that she'd been losing sleep recently (this was a while ago when I was still teaching at the hospital). When I asked why, she admitted that she'd been staying up late watching Korean drama on TV. So yeah. And now I totally understand that.

Alice is a huge fan of Korean drama. When we were in Hohhot together, she bought a few series on DVD, one being Palace, of which I'd seen the first episode at home. I tried watching it with my mom because I was in the market for some fruity cutesy Asian love show, and I really think it would have fit the bill if I could have understood any of it. We tried it in every combination of Korean language, Chinese dubbing, Chinese subtitle, and English subtitle, and I just barely figured out what was going on. So I started it with Alice again, but left after a while to fall asleep and she ended up finishing the rest of it that week. I can't wait to get home though, I'll probably give it another try, even though she said it went very slowly.

She then started another show... and when she described the premise to me I was like... "what the?" So there's this girl at beauty school who lives with her grandmother and aunt. Turns out her mother married her father against the grandmother's wishes, and when he died, the mother had to leave. But the grandmother had been more or less caring. The girl had been flirting with this guy when "whoa" it turns out she's pregnant with his kid! I only got this far, but Alice told me the rest. He dies almost immediately after they get married, and she gives birth to what appears to be a 4 yr. old. And then the rest of the show... I dunno, she has to get along with the family in law, donate some organs to her birth mother, and fall in love all over again. Wasn't a fan, but Alice likes it.

So by the time this weekend came around, I was only paying a marginal amount of attention to the shows Alice was watching. There was one she was watching on TV that was almost over, and though I'd try to figure out what was going on from time to time, I was like "eh."

Then she went to Hohhot again and came back with many more shows, including the one she'd been watching on TV. And I walked in one day about the time the main character, enraged, throws a cake into the face of the guy who'd eventually become her boss and love interest. I was intrigued, and signed on for the majority of it, though ended up not being able to catch the end (fortunately, it's more or less predictable). The show's called My Lovely Samsoon, and I'm totally bringing it home with me in June. It's about a slightly overweight girl with an embarassing name who studied baking in Paris and shows amazing prowess as a pastry chef. She's fairly untalented in most other aspects of life except that she's pretty good-natured and very honest/opinionated. She needs to borrow some money from her young attractive boss for some reason, and as part of the deal has to pretend to be his girlfriend so his mother will stop trying to arrange marriages for him. Meanwhile, he's been pining for 3 years after his ex-girlfriend, who whisked off to America for reasons unknown and left no forwarding address. The ex is a very pretty girl, who, it turns out, had advanced gastric cancer and went to the US for treatment and school. She didn't want to tell the guy... dunno why. In America, she met a really hot Korean American doctor named Henry who also happened to be a very sensitive, mellow type of guy. He fell in love with her, but she was still all about going home hale and healthy to start again with her guy (for whatever reason, she didn't consider him an ex). So Samsoon and the boss are finally having some breakthroughs when the ex re-enters the country. Compounding this, Henry gets a 6 month sabbatical and decides to use it to visit Korea, though he respects that the girl he likes likes someone else. You can imagine what ensues.

This particular set of DVDs was dubbed completely in Chinese except the parts where characters sing or speak English. This is how I know that the guy who plays Henry and the Korean actress who does the ex are pretty good actors in English. Also it's how I know that Chinese dubs will arbitrarily change out voice actors in the middle of a season, and also how much of a shock it is to find out Samsoon's real voice is a few registers lower than the Chinese girl's who dubbed her. This show has an oddly familiar soundtrack. There was one episode in particular that had some good songs in it, but the only moment I really remember from it was when "My Strongest Suit" from Aida, the Broadway musical, signalled the sassy start of the day. At the restaurant. Thereby having nothing to do with clothes, but it fit anyway.

My Lovely Samsoon is very funny and makes you very hungry. Best moments: when the bus driver hits the brakes and Samsoon has to run to the front to avoid falling over and a random techno dance-off sequence between a member of the waitstaff and a sous-chef.

Ok, but that was the preliminaries. The ULTIMATE in Korean drama that I've experience thus far: Sassy Girl, Chun-hyang. I walked in Tuesday night after my training center class and Alice had already started the series. Being too tired to attempt anything else, I sat down on the couch next to her and stared at the screen until I just had to know what was going on. When I saw the main characters' faces, I recognized them from the show they were playing on TV in Alice's dorm. How? The guy struck me as having very big eyes. So yeah, same show.

This show came in the original Korean with simplified Chinese subtitles. So what did I do? I watched it. Whoever said you can't learn a language you don't know through subtitles in another language you can barely read might still be right-- but I still feel pretty empowered for having been able to catch as much as I did. Just wait, by the end of my term here, I'll be a simplified-reading powerhouse who can sound off a number of random words in Korean like "agreed," "cell phone," "thank you," "older sis," and "ice cream." Admission: cell phone and ice cream are borrowings from English, but yo, I picked that out, so I feel cool.

Anyways, I have never in my entire young life expended so much energy in watching any show. The first night, I was in tears for like an hour feeling sorry for this girl. By the end of the next day, I had nothing but sympathy for the guy. It's kind of an emotional spin cycle. Also, it was like sending my brain through the wringer trying to read all the subtitles in time, and I ended up having to ask Alice a lot of time just to make sure I got the gist of statements that were clearly important, or which made her laugh and didn't make me laugh, or which were simply spoken too quickly. Therefore, we also had a lot of dialogue going on, which escalated into yelled commands and remonstrations directed at the characters, predictions, loud declarations of grief or frustration, and so on. It was a highly interactive experience.

Also, our DVD player is on its last legs over here. After about an hour or two of playback it has a seizure. I started the evening watching Pretty Woman, but am writing now because it started skipping and freaking out as Richard Gere takes Julia Roberts to the opera. So I still don't know how the movie ends. So some episodes took an eternity to finish since ever 2-3 seconds of action would be punctuated by about 5 more seconds of torture and cursing.

Bedtime this week was about 2 am.

The plot... uh. Cute flaky boy (Lee Mong-ryong) meets pretty intellectual girl (Chun-hyang) their senior year of high school, and after some bizarre mishap that I missed that resulted in his naked body being discovered in her bedroom one morning, they've been forced into an engagement and are more or less married. She moves in with him and his parents to finish high school. His dad is an awesome sword-swinging police chief and his mom is a kind of annoying lady who lunches. The kids get along really well though, usually, and she helps him raise his grades and then stands up for him when he's accused of cheating. Meanwhile... well, I guess he really doesn't do much for her at this point. Before they marry though, he has a chance to hang out with the girl he actually likes, some older girl he went to high school with before he moved. She told him though that she'd always just think of him as a younger brother, and that's why he consents to the wedding (he and Chun-hyang spent the first few episodes trying to thwart the whole thing but finally give up). The second he marries CH, the girl decides she wants him after all, and then tries to sabotage the relationship, hence, drama. The dumb git then is sort of dating the both of them, and at this stage CH actually falls for him for real but lets him hang out with the other girl because of it. MR has no idea that he's being an insensitive jerk.

While he's off doing whatever, CH meets an entertainment mogul, we'll call him the exec, who is god knows how much older than she is. As a cute, compassionate high schooler, she unwittingly catches his fancy, and he sets about to woo her.

So the show is 17 hours of gut-wrenching melodramatics as wires consistently get crossed and continuously more tangled until, by episode 17, at least 7-8 years later, it's a totally different show. There are a lot of real serious laugh-out loud parts, a few moments where it's truly appropriate to shout "shake her like a baby!" in loving memory of Steph Glass, some excellent achievements in the slow-motion dramatic wrist-grip-to-hug transition tradition, and flattering light treatment. And much more! More? For example, that old trick where the guy enters an up elevator just as the gal exits the down elevator and they actually miss each other? Damn that.

Also they make Lee Mong-Ryung run here and there a whole lot, and he has a really admirable running posture. Also... he's cute like whoa. Meh.

Anyways, we managed to finish the show last night AT LONG LAST (I know, it's been about 3 days), and all of my dreams last night were fixated entirely on it. I think I dreamed up a whole new 17 episodes and dwelled a really long time near the end, obsessed that there had to be a happy ending. I was so disoriented when I woke up I didn't know what to do. Then after a nap later today, I woke up cycling through the soundtrack.

It has to stop.

But what is the thing about the titular "sassy girl?" There are other shows with that term in the title, and of course, the aforementioned movie. Sassiness must be a quality that they value? Anyways, it's clear that we should all aspire to at least some sassiness, because what does sassiness get you?

We should all search for our own rewards.

Laptop Troubles

So last Sunday, I developed some computering problems that were rectified yesterday. Since I have a few unrelated stories I want to share, I'll go ahead and split them into a few easy to swallow entries!

As for my laptop troubles... the problem was that my adapter was... broken? There was something wrong with it, and so my laptop battery would no longer charge. I think this was actually brewing for a couple of days. Alice and I were watching Meet Joe Black one night when our DVD player flipped out, so I put the movie in my laptop instead. I ran out of battery by the end and it took me a while to realize that even after it was plugged in, no juice was flowing. I jiggled the connection though, and then it was fine. I figured the cable wasn't fully connected somewhere

The next day though, my computer ran down again, as the thing was plugged in. I panicked slightly and swished the cable around, and it was fixed again. This hadn't ever been an issue before... the connection was always pretty stable, but I just shrugged it off.

Then last Sunday, while I was using my laptop for class, it did a couple of bizarre things. First of all, iTunes blinked out of existence briefly... it disappeared from my quick launch and then told me that it was uninstalled when I tried to open it through the start menu. Then my Now Charging icon disappeared and didn't come back no matter what I did.

So last week I had only about 1 hr of power left in my laptop that I was afraid to use in case I needed it or something. For a while it looked like I'd need to go to Hohhot again to find a repair place, buuuut...

My class was cancelled on Tuesday, but when Alice got back she told me that Mr. Ding said he knew a Sony story here that could at least look at it, but that he would use some of the school's equipment to see if the problem was my laptop or the adapter. The next day I took everything in, but the tests showed that it was my laptop. I was really upset, right?

Thursday morning, we met up to go to the Sony store, where I feel like... they didn't try very hard at first because really Sony doesn't sell my model anymore. Also they insisted that it was probably the adapter. We were ready to leave when I was like "well... did they say if we could check it with one of the adapters here? it's not like all the computers in this series don't have the same parts" and so on. So we pulled everything out again, they plugged in an adapter from one of the T series (which are gooooorgeous and I want one) and ta da. The guy couldn't sell us one from that store, but he predicted a Y380 price tag if we bought it from an electronics shop.

So we ended up in an A/V mall a la that episode of Cowboy Bebop where Jet's looking for a beta tape deck, and guess how much my new adapter cost! Like... Y130, making it officially cheaper than the generic replacement I got off eBay after the original disappeared at the library junior year (and that one broke, remember). So cool. I may get another before I leave just so I'm covered in future eventualities.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Address

Unsure of who is interested in this, but I've got a way to e-mail my mailing address (it's in Chinese) out to folks who want it. I don't know what postage is, I assume it stinks, but I'll be the first to say how much I love mail, so if you are the type of person who mails stuff to people in faraway places, send me a message/leave a comment, and I'll forward it to you!

Have a day!

Some outdated irony

Not really relevant anymore, but here's some irony that I appreciated a few days ago.

On Thursday when we came out of our high school classes, R declared that that day the equipment had been "out to get him," at which point I lost patient and reiterated my belief that he shouldn't rely on technology or dvds to teach his lessons if he can't handle the glitches. I fear I may have hurt his feelings but I don't know how many hints I can give before I come out and say "I don't think your way is a very good idea." Later that night, I was in the training center trying to get through as much of Eternal Sunshine as possible because I don't want them to be watching 10 minute snatches of it forever (esp. if I may have to drop that class, more on that when I have more info). Buuuut, no one had set up the projector ahead of time, so I had three of the men checking every plug, climbing chairs, and pushing various buttons, very very early in the lesson, for which I had no real emergency plan, and with no results whatsoever.

One of them, in a stroke of genius, pressed some random button hidden in a strange place that I couldn't find again if you asked me, finally got it all together for us, but geez. Talk about a karmic smackdown.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Kind of sick now

Because I found a website today where pissed off foreigners just bitch and bitch. So it really looked like kind of a support group for people having bad days in a strange land, but having gone through one of the comment pages, I feel as though many of these people could benefit from just... spiking their mi fan with midol or something.

Like there was a challenge where folks should submit their best simile for life in China, but the replies were just so bitter that everyone missed the point of what this challenge *could* have been. A lot of them compared China to self-mutilation, disappointment, unhealthy relationships, and regrettable sex. Often, Chinese people were described as children, effete, stupid, or crooked. I hadn't even read all the comments when the most obvious solution presented itself: go home. I mean... if you don't like it here, and it's so much trouble to stay here, why don't you just go home? Clearly it's sooooo much better back there, though I promise you'll still be able to find shit to complain about.

Whatever, everyone is allowed a moment to rage and be a moron, especially when unexpected things happen that aren't altogether positive (re: not at all), but classless humor is not a substitute for superiority and belittling an entire country of individuals just because you had a bad day does not pass for clever.

Cope or go home.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Plus more adventures in food

last night, i dreamt that i was driving in mariokart along with a number of friends. it was sort of macabre.

Also included: baking experiment #1.

Ah, so yesterday was my day off! I sat around for part of the morning as Alice configured her new gmail account, then the two of us went out shopping. It was coooold yesterday! Well, just chilly and very windy. The wind totally sabotaged my outfit and I had to run back upstairs to change. Gangtie Lu (a wide road running E-W) was like one big wind tunnel.

We started out at a "spicy soup" place, as Alice has been calling it. It's funny she does this sort of descriptive translation for me, which is nice, but I swear I can handle the actual Chinese words... it'd be more helpful anyways. I think if I needed to find this sort of food on my own and asked someone for spicy soup, they wouldn't know where to begin. Almost every one of this region's specialties I've encountered so far has revolved around this main idea of spicy soup. Anyways, it's called ma la chuan, and it's the Mongolian BBQ of soup. Anything with the word "chuan"in it involves a skewer, by the way. So we ran across the street to this little restaurant that was incredibly crowded. No seats. We went up to what looked like a set of produce shelves at the supermarket, where there were baskets full of skewered mushrooms, tofu, greens, hot dogs, fish balls, squid, tofu skin, etc. You pick up your own basket and fill it with whatever you want. I went with two things of frozen tofu, sweet potato, yellowish brown mushroom slices, and some big leafy greens. Then up to the counter to pay for it... plus some potato starch noodles and a cold green tea, it all came to... Y7.5? Less than 10 anyway. They gave me a number- 6- and I went with Alice to stake out a seat. We managed to sit down at a counter, but it was not build for people to eat around it, and they were sort of using it to store some vegetables. So we snatched a table after some other people left.

You have to wait a while for everything to boil, but after a while, they bring out a bowl lined in a plastic bag filled with a whitish-yellow broth and a thin orange film of oil on top, assuming you asked for hot sauce, which I so did. You know, it was ok. I think I personally had better last week and a place near the Training Ctr. The broth was barely discernable... the entire thing was just the best spiciest soup ever. Dark red! It was great. I was crying, which is a natural reaction to having that much chili at one time. Ooh!

After that, we ran through the chill to an indoor mall selling nothing but clothes. I got a pretty generic navy track jacket from Eruner. Some nice white racing stripes down the side. And I put it on immediately, over my fleece, cuz it was cold outside.

When we finished there, we went back over to Wangfujing. We go there a lot. Just twice last week for the microwave. We went through the supermarket in the basement for.... baking ingredients! And a bunch of random crap. I always feel like an 8 year old who was asked to do the shopping for her family and buys only junk food and snacks. It's not aaaall junk food, but we're always short on snacks around here. The worst was this really heavy sack of flour.

Then back up to the 5th floor for a toaster oven! I bought a hulk of a toaster oven, a big brushed silver Galanz. It has a rotisserie function. Cost me Y638. We begged the saleslady for free gifts since we are clearly regular customers. She managed to find a set of spice jars and another microwaveable dish (we got two free with our microwave). One of the salesmen gave us a Y500 gift card in exchange for 500 in cash, and then carried everything out to the curb for us. I took the oven and all the groceries in a cab so that Alice could return with the bike.

The first thing I did was whip out an oatmeal raisin (that was originally "oatmean raising" for people who are interested in my disintegrating typing skills) cookie recipe I found online (ok, actually the first thing I did was put two pairs of jeans into the wash, but whatever). People here don't ever bake, so first of all, no one could understand why I wanted to buy such a big expensive oven in the first place.

Here's where the tricks game up though. The recipe called for baking soda. We bought two known leavening agents at the store, assuming one was soda and one was powder, but were unable to tell the difference between the two. I remembered a speech my home ec teacher gave in the 8th grade about what horrible things happen when you accidentally use one instead of the other. I realized that after all the baking I've done, I couldn't remember what one looked like compared to the other. I thought I'd be all clever and Mr. Science-y, and do some simple experiments in my kitchen, but... ok, so both contain NaHCO3, sodium bicarbonate, so both will react if you pour vinegar on them. So getting all excited about that didn't help me one bit. It turns out that baking powder is baking soda already mixed with a dry acid and usually corn starch and will react as it gets wet. So I added water and nothing happened to either. So I felt silly.

One did look more like corn starch than the other, but I didn't know if that was good enough. The internet didn't help a whole lot. On various message boards, some people claimed that xiaoshuda, which I had in a green bag, was baking soda, and on other boards, folks claimed that it was baking powder. I conclude that maybe none of these people actually know. The label on the other bag, a pink one bearing a character I don't recognize but am tempted to pronounce as "cheng" plus a character I do know, mian, is unscrutinized on the internet and didn't show up in Alice's translator. Xiaoshuda came up as "saleratus" which I had to to find out meant baking soda. Buuut, then there was all that other contradictory info. Finally Alice called her mom and came back with the answer, " just use the green one... the pink one you should use only if you're cooking something sour." A hint, yet still more contradictory.

This led me to believe that the green bag was actually full of baking powder, since soda needs an acid added in the recipe to do anything. But I decided to just listen to her mom, even though the recipe called for soda. A quick internet check revealed that various recipes call for one, the other, or both, so I just threw up my hands and went for it.

I mixed everything together in a pot. The recipe... basically functioned as a set of guidelines. The actual portioning of ingredients came entirely out of my ass. For one, it called for a cup of butter, but I only had one smaller-than-usual stick, so... Also, I don't have ANY measuring equipment! So I used a paper cup and what I thought was a teaspoon but which I now believe to be nearly two teaspoons. The recipe called for a massive amount of brown sugar, by the way. So I got to the part about raisins. I had a bag of green raisins that I got from the market a while ago, but when I tasted them it turns out... they're not the kind of raisins that would go into a cookie. So I ran to the fridge and got an apple and chopped that up. In baking the first batch, I discovered that 176ºC is so much hotter than the recipe needed. So I turned it down to about 140º. It looked to me like the bottoms were burning, but it was actually the brown sugar playing tricks on my vision.

I added some coffee grounds to the second batch, because I love coffee grounds in baking. Thanks to one of my kayaking instructors who introduced the idea to me and a Bobby Flay BBQ special for cementing that for me.

So... the outcome... Uh. You know, they're good. I'm happy to eat cookies like this. But there were a few brown sugar lumps that I didn't get to, so every once in a while you get this molasses burst that can be a little creepy if you're not prepared. Also, here and there you get a bite that's almost... savory? but not in a bad way. So I dunno. What I've determined is that the oven works. It's just execution that needs to be cleaned up a bit.

Alice's two friends were over by the time I finished, and the four of us went out for hotpot. This meal lasted for way too long. One of her friends met several of his there, and we couldn't leave until they were finished talking. In the meantime, the other three of us chewed gum and I dissected most of the larger floating spices in the soup and composed a portrait out of the leftovers. You know hotpot by now. This place does it pretty well and gives you a choice of two broths-- I thought it was called xiaofeiyang (little fat sheep/goat), but it seems like it's actually called something else. There are two giant statues of adorable goats in mongolian garb pulling noodles outside though, and I really want to climb one some night after I get a new camera. Very busy that night-- one very celebratory party at two large tables directly to our left, so...

Afterwards, they wanted to go to the internet cafe, so I went along. Spent most of my time reading around NYtimes and National Geographic and they played a Mariokart-esque racing game (hence my dream). We were there until 12, when most of the lights were turned off. By then I really had to pee and even my skin smelled like smoke. Alice and I took a cab home, where, unable to really account for anything I wanted to do, I did dishes, showered, and went to bed.

Ta da!

My Schedule

It seems that since classes are more or less as finalized as they're ever going to be, it's about time I broke it down for you.

When we first came here, Russ and I were both teaching the same classes at the same time, which blew, because it meant that both of us had to go to every class, organize it all together (I will admit right now that they were never particularly thorough at that time), and then put up with each other's teaching style. Then, when the high school classes began, the decision came from above that we'd alternate weeks at the two adult sites. Then, after the thievery, they assigned Russ to the hospital exclusively so he wouldn't be going home after dark.

So, at this time, I am no longer teaching at the Baogang Hospital.

Instead, I do...

The Baogang Training Center: Baogang is the name of a steel corporation that has apparently had a lot of influence on this town, which has a very stiff mining background in things like coal and steel. Which is why guidebooks and visitors always come away with the impression that the city is cleaner than it should be. Anyways, I teach here on Tues and Thurs from 7-9pm and Saturday for 3 hrs starting at 2:30. At it's largest, I believe the class is a little over 30 strong. I think most of the students are at least 3 years out of college, and some of them look like they're in their 40s. Not all of them work for Baogang, and there's a mix of ECEs, computer sciences, factory management, and so on, and I know there's at least one journalist. This is currently one of the most challenging classes for me because I can't not care what they think about me. When I get a chance to talk to everyone, it's a lot of fun and I feel helpful, but it's harder for them to understand me (compared to the high schoolers), and their levels vary sometimes to extremes. It's basically the type of class that education experts always warn against-- large and variegated. So individual attention is limited and half of them will get bored sometimes and half of them will be totally lost sometimes. Two vague celebrity look-alikes in this class: a guy who looked a little like a Chinese James Franco the first day, less so since, and a guy who bears a slight resemblance to Noah Wile, if he were combined with my Uncle Chris and a bit more Japanese.

Baogang Yi Zhong: "Yizhong" means it's the #1 Middle School (there are at least 9 of them), and even though it's called a middle school, it's a high school. Especially after Yantai last year, I'm used to there being a zhongxue, middle school, and a gaozhong, high school. But here they're not explicitly high schools. Is there another #1 that's actually a middle school? No clue. But in any case, there's never a misunderstanding, so whatever, it works. This is reputedly the best school in the district, and it's not too shabby. The complex is a bit deeper and more colorful than the Muping Experimental School, and their sports yard is located more to the center. They had volleyball competitions between district gym teachers all last week, so we watched those if we got there early.

I teach there 4:20-5:40, Tues-Fri. There are actually 8 English classes though, so I take one set one week while Russ does the other, and the next week we switch. This means the same lesson for 2 weeks. I guess it challenges me to keep evolving the lesson the whole time, otherwise I'll get way bored. Today's my first time teaching a full class to the 2nd group, which I actually remember as being rowdier, but eh... this group of classes was also the the group that had class in the language lab, which sort of encourages student-teacher detachment. Alice just thinks that it's the students which are worse than my classes from last week, but we'll see today. In any case, my students last week, which I'll call the downstairs students, were pretty awesome.

Sunday High Schoolers: This is a class of about 8 students that meets for 3 hours on Sundays, at 2:30, in Russ's apartment. Of note is that Russ is no longer teaching them, but Mr. Liu doesn't want to move the class over to my place... so I gotta go over to Russ's every Sunday. 3 hours is an insane amount of time to be having class, by the way. It makes me a little nervous when I teach this class. Also, there's one kid who just sort of... stares into space and one girl who looks like she's gonna pass out until you give her a chance to start talking in Chinese, then some switch flips on and you can't get her to stop talking and pay attention to you. There's one huge Jay fan who is excited about talking but sometimes mixes things up, and two guys who like to talk in English and are pretty good at it. One of them has attempted to read Frankenstein and gave up-- no blame there. The other has been downloading Natgeo podcasts from iTunes. I think most of these kids are from #9... some of them are from #1, but dropped the classes we teach there. Is there a #5 component? I might just be making that up.

Saturday High Schoolers: A new development. As of last Saturday, I have a 2 hr class at 7:30 with about 7 high schoolers, mostly from #9, with maybe two from #1. Don't know much about them yet, other than one plays guitar and likes Guns-n-Roses, and one spends all her free time not having free time-- in other words, she's studying and working always.

Anyways, that's it. Monday is my free day.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Under the linden trees

Here's something I've been keeping to myself.

You know that song, Dragostea Din Tei, otherwise known as "the numa numa song?" You know how in the US we have no idea what it means cuz it's in Romanian? Well, it's pretty popular over here, actually, and instantly recognizable for anyone who's heard it before, despite the fact that in most cases you'll find that it's being sung by a woman in Chinese.

But also, you remember the guy with the internet video, sorta big, dancing in front of his PC and lip-synching the song?

I just saw a commercial on TV and they were playing the song, the female Chinese version, but also the video in which the dude is lip-synching and breaking it down.

I... well, I laughed.

A recent "nightmare"

Fact is that I just posted a really long entry, but I can't get enough of this sharing thing, and actually here's a dream I want to describe for posterity before I do any forgetting.

Prologue: as you know, many if not all of my dreams recently have been pretty dazzling (to me, I mean), colorful, clear, and startling in their realism (at the time). Not only that, but they differ from dreams I've had in the past in that the weather is more distinct and more visible, and there's more of a physical component than ever, especially in terms of pain.

Two or three nights ago, I dreamt that I was walking down the street in Ithaca (only it definitely wasn't Ithaca), listening to music, and it was about to rain. The sidewalk I was on was on a higher plane than the street, so there was a short slope of grass between me and the road. Nearby, there was a chubbier white balding man in a white t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, jogging, possibly listening to a walkman.

Then the approach of a group of... hooligans. Terrorist youth. Serious troublemakers. I don't remember if they came from the side of the street or in a convertible, but they definitely appeared. They were all of a certain persuasion and wasted absolutely no time in accosting this man, and eventually graffiti'd his back with black spraypaint. I got a feeling that this was a serial thing... that they were assaulting a certain kind of person, much in the same way that there were serial kidnappings in a dream I described earlier, and serial vampire attacks in my oldest nightmare (you know... they were dressing up as postal workers to get at children as they watched TV... my assailant was a curly carrot-top with beetlejuice's pale skin, an orange and green striped or polka-dotted tie, and a tux-- no joke, this one scared the bejeesus out of me when i was younger).

Anyways, I started walking faster, towards an group of apartments. Sometime before this dream occurred, I was introduced to the fact that my friend Christine's grandmother lived in one of these apartments. The buildings themselves were identical to some that I saw in Orange County this summer, but transplanted in a greener northeastern setting. I just felt like I would be safe if I could get there, even though I believed I wasn't the type of person these others were targeting. By the time I got to the right building, it had started sprinking.

The apartment building had four apartments, two on the bottom floor and two on the top, with two sets of stairs. All the doors opened directly onto individual patios/platforms where people would keep picnic tables, lawn ornaments, and so on. I couldn't figure out which of these four apartments was the one I was looking for. I looked closely at each one, climbing upstairs and back down again. When I got back down, Christine was there, having the same dilemma. Then we sighted her grandmother's cat (I don't think I've ever met her grandmother and I don't know where she lives or if she has a cat), and entered the apartment.

At that time, it was clear that those people (having a hard time coming up with an appropriate label) were coming for us. So as soon as we got in, we started going as far into the apartment as we could, looking for a place to hide. We found a large linen closet, tried to climb up, but couldn't find any better cover. There was a window that I felt that I could fit through, but decided that that was for the ultimate emergency. I wanted to call the police before they could get in, but since we couldn't be sure if the land line was tapped or not (we still didn't know if they knew which door we came in), and our cell phones were in the kitchen. And then I got the feeling that they were already inside and that there was no option to call for help. They started searching everywhere, systematically. We piled clothes on top of ourselves, stationed hampers in front of us, but I was not confident. Someone poked their head in, but didn't see us right away and left.

There was an ambiguous time where it seemed like there was another closet in the room and Christine's grandma was already in there and we were able to whisper with her, but I think a part of me really didn't want that to be part of the story and kept denying it to the point where it sort of happened and sort of didn't.

Then one of the girls/women/whatever in the group had some inkling that we were hiding in the closet, and I could see her start walking towards us. I had a very clear view this whole time of everything they were doing. Christine was much better hidden than I was-- I was just sitting against the wall with my legs in a hamper, using it as a shield. She came in and started talking to me. She had long black hair. I think she knew very well where I was, but wanted to pretend she didn't, just so she could fire her gun at the hamper. So she did, she fired like 3 shots randomly through the hamper so they landed around my legs. I got squeamish and started flailing, and thus exposed legs and eventually the rest of me. So she shot me once in the leg. And again, in... the other leg. And was going to continue shooting me, when the pain woke me up.

After waking up once, I started directing the action in the dream with more agency. What resulted from this, I'm not sure... grandma definitely was no longer hiding with us, we rewound before the shooting, something like that. The last thing I remember was looking through the window at the rain and a pine tree, thinking that there was a forest out there I could hide in when there wasn't at all. Just before waking up, I was contemplating breaking the window, wondering if I actually had the strength to do so, and what would happen to Christine, who wouldn't be able to fit through it (think the really small windows you find in basements). Then wondering if I could actually fit through myself.

Anyways, this dream stuck with me all day, and I found myself wondering: if I could have escaped through that window, should I have? Also, that woman would have killed me in a few more seconds, or tortured me or something. I'm pretty sure they were going to ask me where everyone else was. What should I have done? Not said anything and died and have them search the 5 feet around me where everyone was hiding anyway? Or should I just have given up to see if we would get any other opportunities to escape?

So yeah, I would file this one under "nightmare" even though it's not especially nightmarish.

Details, details, me being pissed, and when words become tasty

[In this installment: today, yesterday, food habits, appliances, teaching, going apesh*t, and a colorful restaurant review]

Today I awoke at 6:something from what amounted to a teaching nightmare to find that my abdomen was still inflated like a balloon. I'd been tossing and turning for goodness knows how long, from confrontation after confrontation with confused and irritated students and some righteous gastro-intestinal injury. Basically, I'd eaten an unusually large portion at dinner previously and it appeared that none of it had yet begun the journey to digestion and was just hanging out in my stomach. So actually this morning sucked, because I knew I still had 2ish lessons to plan for today. I sat up straight for a while, consumed an oreo, took some pepto, and tried the sleeping thing again, really uninterested in puking in any way.

After my alarm officially roused me around 9, I managed to pass out again (you know how that goes). This time, I had a really interesting dream about "King's Island" (only not really), getting pizza and candy there with Selina, some holiday, a small child, a bunch of Chinese people who are related to me, and... stuff. Whatever, it was weird, and I woke up during this really emotional part that involved lots of cheesy pizza.

You see, the restfulness of my sleep has not improved.

Anyways, classes today went all right. The training center students now have THREE textbooks! I was like... what?? When I realized a few days ago that they'd all paid for the first two and were already in possession of them, I started building some lessons around those. The first day was boooring, cuz I didn't get the corresponding tapes (yes, cassette tapes!) until 30 min into the lesson, and not everyone brought their books, and also I wasn't 100% sure of the most efficient way to use them. I've since determined that some of the activities are just plain dumb, but have also accepted the usefulness of some of the others to spur discussion. So that ended up warming things up today after the initial blaaaah of the recorded dialogues.

My ideal class would be smaller, with a more consistent level of advancement. But oh well. At least when they're doing activities, I get to move around and check on their degree of understanding. It's actually, like, my favorite part and I'm hopeful that it helps, but really they're the ones who'd know about that-- not me. Sadly. Today we did introductions (almost as done as it sounds, but with a bit of logic behind it, coming from a book) and superstitions, which was fun and COINCIDENTALLY (whoa) appropriate since yesterday was you-know-when.

When I got back, Alice and her mom were home getting dinner started. In case you wonder, I've been subsisting largely on a diet of potatoes and rice, and, uh, losing weight in spite of it. All my clothes started fitting better again almost as soon as the plane landed. It's been pretty sweet. Anyways, tonight there was rice, potatoes and... leeks? with extra soy, and some leftovers from when the Lees cooked lunch here the other day-- the green remains of some di san xian (Alice's mom insists that it's just stir-fried eggplant... i guess since the green peppers and potatoes are more common) and some stir-fried potato slices with green pepper. The leftovers were brought to us by our brand new microwave, which we picked up Thursday morning from the 5th floor of Wangfujing department store. The microwave... was Y400, but interestingly enough has a function that admits the use of metal... I believe it's the "Lightwave." I don't know anything about it, so I'm reluctant to use anything other than nuke hi until I can get details on the instructions from Alice. Also it was big and we had to drag it down all the floors by escalator and then wheel it home on the back of the bike.

I started still another class with high schoolers today, this time only 7 students. There were two English teachers present, moms of two of the boys. They came to the apartment at 8 tonight, and we talked for about an hour before they all left. They were pretty enthusiastic, but most of them have some big exams this weekend (class will be 2 hrs long, starting next week). I felt bad though, cuz one of the girls kept insisting that they had absolutely no free time to watch movies or listen to music since they spend so much time at school and on homework. I was like... damn, 1) I'm glad to be out of high school, 2) I'm glad I went to a US public school.

Viewed 10 Things I Hate About You, courtesy of iTunes, for the 3rd time in perhaps just as many days, but the idea was to show it to Alice since we watched Brokeback Mountain the other day (agreed: it should have won, and crash is a sillier movie than ever) and I wanted her to know that Heath Ledger can enunciate when the script calls for it. As you see, it's been a good week for movies.

Friday marked the end of my first week of real classes at the high school. This second lesson was mostly about getting them in the right mindset for learning English-- first present the potential, then discuss it. Also, I wanted to get an idea of the subjects they usually talk about with their friends (in case I'm more out of touch than I thought). And we listened to/analysed "It's Beginning To Get To Me" by Snow Patrol. I want to equate the first class of the week to a firstborn child. That is, they get the raw unadulterated lesson, which has had no feedback, no correction, and they have to deal with any unrealistic expectations that may exist. The kids are all really charming though. I thought that my first lesson, which involved throwing a ball and sitting around chittering while other kids had the spotlight, would make them think that it was ok to be unruly. But boy, do they listen to you when you speak! By Friday though, I was way bored with my own lesson (and I have to do the same thing for the other classes next week, ick), and changed it a little-- for the better evidently. Instead of my blind quest for a group analysis of the song (which left me explaining most of it), I was like "ok, you figure it out for yourselves." Yay for getting to walk around and talk to everyone!

Meanwhile, and this is something I HAVE to complain about, Russ spent all week screening Fellowship of the Ring. I know he's declared vehemently that he doesn't want to teach high schoolers, but I don't see what the big deal is. In a lot of ways, they're a lot easier to teach than the adults-- they're no less cooperative, and due to the miracle of a 5-7 year (still not sure which) curriculum, they understand more of what you say, sooner. Also, hey, you have slightly more power over them, weird as that sounds. Anyway, the story began on Monday, when Alice asked me and Russ if we had our lesson outlines prepared. He said yes, and I said no. By lesson outline, she meant like a handout that they could photocopy for the students. I was expecting to have until Tuesday morning. At all this extra information, Russ was like "what?" Turns out he had a lesson plan, but had no idea that anyone had ever asked for a handout (which I'm sure has been brought up before). The next morning, I got up bright and early to type everything out and finalize like my song choice and all that, and had the original sheet printed by the time Alice woke up. She left to photocopy and didn't come back for hours.

When she finally got back, I was like... did you really have to wait that long? I was curious because she only needed to make 300 copies of each outline, and having walked various print jobs to the Olin copy center, I figured that no matter what equipment it was, it couldn't have taken that long. She said, with some exasperation, "I was waiting for Russ!" I had heard her call him before she left to make sure that he had something, but he still didn't even by the time she got there. What he wound up giving her was a handwritten sheet with a few random terms from freaking LOTR written on it with colons after them. I looked at this paper and not all of my laughter could be suppressed. Seriously, anyone who had this handed to them would have a big WTF branded hard across their forehead. I was like, you are shitting me, plain and simple. But no. Alice's aunt had bought a computer for Russ to use, so Alice was like, can't you at least type it? Well no. He refused to revise the "outline" (like hell) in any way, saying that he never wanted to teach the high schoolers and that they could fire him if they wanted. What makes this situation more exasperating is that he's leaving in January anyways, when a new teacher is scheduled to arrive, and we really don't want him to leave sooner than that.

So Alice didn't copy that.

We went to the school early to sort out all the technical matters associated with him playing that damn movie, and they almost couldn't get it to play. But since my equipment was controlled by a console I'd never encountered before, I asked Alice and Teacher Ding (who's in charge of the language lab Russ was using) to figure out my stuff while I messed around with the DVD. Proud to say that my experiments bore fruit, and quickly, and I was off.

I had the training center that night, so Alice and I were dropped off within walking distance (well... in campus/city terms, I suppose). She'd sat in on Russ's class and was nice enough to describe it to me. I would probably have been really pissed if I'd been sitting in there. He'd insisted that he would only show about 15 minutes of the film, but actually spent 40 min or something on it. Only... the way he did it... he apparently played it, unsubtitled in any language, then stopped it and repeated all the lines, and wrote them on the board. Alice had told me earlier what Russ had told her that his plan was: 15 minutes of the movie and then October holidays. Fucking holidays! So the first day at the hospital and training center, we'd been surprised by the fact that we had to actually teach a lesson (this was the day after we arrived), so he turned randomly to a page in a book, saw the word "holidays" and insisted that we do holidays. So holidays, to me, says "I don't want to think of anything else to teach." But also he wanted to do just October holidays. Alice said that since we teach the same lesson to two sets of kids for 2 weeks, she was afraid he'd just teach nothing but month-specific holidays all year. Which I think was a valid fear.

So I asked if he managed to teach Halloween ok, since it was the only Oct. holiday I could think of. She said no, he didn't make it to Halloween. I was like, uh? What eclipses Halloween? Well, apparently Columbus Day does. Along with Columbus day, evidently, came a Spanish lesson. Yes. In his ENGLISH class, Russ taught SPANISH. And also a smattering of racial terms, which I saw evidence of the next day.

The next day, we walked into the classroom and I looked at the board and just had to roll my eyes. Remember now, that I'm a huge Fellowship fan, but I'm sure you agree when I assert that the usefulness of the language in those first 15 minutes is... well, these are 9th graders. They have English exams that will determine their candidacy for college. "They were all of them deceived" will probably not help them. "Nine rings were gifted to the race of men" probably won't either. Neither will the word "Mongoloid" which was scribbled in an area of the board with a lot of other "-oid" type words that no one ever uses. So additionally, the language in this movie, apart from being a little ornate and dusty, is very standard British. Russ hasn't got a British accent. As far as I know, he has no intention to teach British English. In my opinion, this makes his lesson hyper-inconsistent.

What else adds to that? Well, the second day, when I asked if there was any more Spanish, Alice reported that Russ showed the movie until there were only 5 min. left in class. That is the time that he decided to say "let's have a 5 minute break!" In my experience all week, the kids are already a little confused when we end at 5:40 as we're told to, because the bell doesn't ring until 5:50 (the time class would be over if we observed the 10 minute break that occurs 40 min into class). So that's like... what?

The next day, Alice spent the period in the hall talking with Mr. Yuan (the man we had dinner with that one night and who's sort of in charge of the fact that we're there) and Mr. Ding. So I end up finding out from Russ himself that the audio didn't work that day. So I was like "maaan, what did you do?" Because Tuesday he'd insisted that he had a back up plan "in his head" when I sorta criticised him for having such a tech-dependent lesson (I was considering the fact that he's technologically inept, to be totally totally frank in my words). I was interested in knowing how he'd pulled it together. Still optimistic, I promise you. Until he said that he'd just showed the movie anyway and did the voices himself. Eh!

Whew. That was long-winded, but you know how I like to get things off my chest. So I know that I have my own short-comings, but here's what I have to say. I don't care if there's something you don't want to do if it needs to be done. It's of absolutely no inconvenience to him to teach these classes and take the effort to do it well. Of the two of us, he's the one who's TEFL certified, so what the fuck is going on? These students are not released from that school until 7:20 or some such, and I think they actually have to go back until like 10, and their only chance to eat before 7:20 is the time they get after our class before their next one starts. So really, can't he just reflect for a moment and then give them something worth learning? They're in our classes voluntarily and are really excited to have us there. I just wish he'd show them some real respect.

And I know that he thinks he's doing well, but I'd have freaking murdered my language teachers by now if that's all we did in class. And who knows-- maybe the students enjoy it? But anyways, as of now, my opinion on this matter is that this sucks and I just wanted to say so.

End rant. Ah. Maybe I've been nastier than usual. Whatever, we took the bus back that night and Alice and I booked to Xiang La Xia ("fragrant spicy shrimp" it means, and they ain't lying) to meet her mom for dinner. It's the 3rd time I've been there-- we had our first Baotou dinner there, and ate with Mr. Yuan there to discuss the high school-- and it really doesn't get old. Tell me if there's any way this can get old: The first plane of eating manifests in a large stainless steel pot/wok. It's brought to your table containing a jumble of shrimp, wings, potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, and bundles of starch noodles dripping in bright spicy oils. You eat and eat and eat, while sipping a really lovely tea that's sometimes lightly sweetened, with dried dates and a guiyuan (described as a cheap lychee/longan type fruit) floating in it. But no matter how much you eat, the meal does not end. There is a second plane of eating. There is another level, another step. There is eating 2.0. Once you've deemed that you're done with phase one, they bring out a second menu. Then they dump a bowl of chilis and spices into the pot, add some broth, and light a gas burner underneath. Then come plates of other delectables: raw lamb, beef, or pork, leafy greens, vermicelli, mushrooms of all varieties, tofus of different makes-- all these can be yours! On this occasion, we ordered some frozen tofu, golden needle mushrooms, and vermicelli. I actually doubt that what we had last night was frozen tofu but really some potato-derived bread-like substance that we'd eated on a previous night. Alice may have misunderstood what I'd asked for. But it was essentially what I was after. Both frozen tofu and this mysterious substance have a sponge-like consistency that is really bizarre at first bite. What I'm saying is that it's like eating a sponge. But it's like eating a DELICIOUS sponge. What happens is that all the little pores lock in the super-spicy soup and it's like an endorphin-explosion in your face. Then we got some noodles on the house-- someone comes by with a plate of dough pieces about 3-4 inches in length, then wh-ptsch! they grab both ends of one, whip it up and down a few times, and you've got a noodle a yard long. If they're the right thickness when they go in the soup, the noodles come out nice and chewy.

Because of the operation on her throat, Alice's mom wasn't in a position to eat spicy food. So all that stuff that I just described... I ate about half of it, and Alice ate the other half. I mean, it's an exaggeration: Mrs. Lee ate many of the chicken wings and we had a lot leftover in the end, but... anyways, that brings me back to the beginning of this entry and the stomach that was full for nearly 12 hours.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ear today

Here's something interesting: I can feel my heartbeat in my earlobe. Yep. Over a year from the day it was pierced (sometime during fall break), it still inflates and stings and itches and sucks as it pleases. It is currently doing all those things.

I just finished week one of actual lessons at the high school. I really love it there!

This entry was originally written on 10/13/06, but I have just found it unpublished in a pile of entries on 5/3/07. Iiiinteresting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Where to find dental floss

If ever you find yourself in a Chinese supermart on a quest for dental floss, try saving yourself some time. Rather than stalking the dental care aisles, direct yourself to cutlery and silverware. There you may find what you seek!

Granted, that's where they were keeping the toothpicks, but still...

I had a moment a few days ago where I was a little freaked out by my teeth, so I've also been drinking a bit more milk. I realized that without my regular intake of lattes, ice cream, cheese, and alfredo sauce I am getting zero calcium. So I went for the hi-cal milk, which I got accidentally on a previous trip and is actually awesome because it really tastes like it came out of a cow. China is not really the place for skim drinkers. Anyways, I sometimes get the impression that I'm drinking butter, so that can't be bad.

Got my first high school class in two weeks this afternoon. Alice is out copying our handouts now. We'll see how this first class goes... figured I'd get the lyrics interpretation/descriptive language out of the way the first week, since I don't know what kinds of things I can play on their equipment yet. After this, we'll do pop culture (music, movies, tv), education, admissions-type questions and tests (TOEFL, IELTS), cities and travel, and so on. I thought about the food thing a bit, and I'm thinking now that it might be sorta boring to do an entire class on.

Then the training center tonight, hopefully all the students will show up today. Last time, we were locked out of the room for like 30 min before one of the students busted in with a plastic card. Then a ton of technical difficulties, which I think I can overcome today. So music there, then some more Eternal Sunshine. I'll let you know how that movie goes with them.

I just watched it again to take notes-- I looooove that movie!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

It's some kind of animal

Our apartment, thankfully, doesn't have the type of infestation you would expect. We have no ants, spiders, flies, fruit flies, mosquitoes, or even cockroaches.

HOWEVER, what we do have are silverfish-esque multi-legged creepy crawlers of a particularly juicy denomination, and I've had the distinct pleasure of killing two of them recently.

[oct. 14 addendum: i wrote this entry ages ago, but apparently it never published... until now! probably not worth the wait]

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dream sequence

Our TV works! Sort of. Now we need a DVD player!

So today I took a nearly 4-hour nap after lunch. I'm about ready to fall asleep still. I'm really at a loss as to how I can be so tired after sleeping sooo much. I may get more sleep now than I have in years.

I thought maybe it has something to do with my dreams. I have vivid, memorable dreams every time I close my eyes. Last night, for example, I distinctly remember two Chinese hip-hop posers trying to sell me their blingy clothes, and me demanding that they just give them to me. This was in the desert, next to an adobe wall. Then I ventured out, and eventually shielded some friends of mine from a land mine explosion, with my body. This led to the amputation of my right leg. I was allowed to keep my leg and walk around on it for a few days before the amputation, and was really depressed. There was a sequence in which I walked down the dusty desert street crying buckets. Some other army amputees (army? army.) explained that after they took the limb, they'd give me a medal, and tv promotions, and lots of other compensation, but that's when I realized how important my flesh was to me. I was really confused when I was still able to use the leg. I thought maybe they'd already taken it, and I had the phantom limb thing. But like, I was walking on it. So I thought maybe they'd already fitted me with a... replacement. But if I poked it, it really hurt. So yeah. That was last night.

This afternoon I had some serious dreaming about an elevator. Like, I was some woman, maybe a blonde, on some mission, which took me to this building like a shopping mall. I had two exes there (and I mean like ex-husbands), one of whom had some exec position, and the other was a security guard at a desk. Neither of them wanted to help me out. In whatever ensued, the exec guy took me shoes so I couldn't leave the building, and I couldn't get out of the elevator because otherwise they would find me. This story ended twice. Once with the exec-like man forcing the elevator open and sticking his head in the door to compromise. In the other ending, everyone just stopped paying attention and I was able to just pick up my shoes and leave the building. In one of these two endings, the security guard and I rekindled some spark or another, but it was totally PG.

Then a scene in the subway, in which it became clear that I was a character in a computer game, because if the person playing moved the cursor to either end of the screen, it would tell you what direction I would be headed if I started walking that way. Like... to the subway station.

There was a whole other dramatic part after this that was very distinct when I woke up. OOOH. I was kidnapped! In my sleep! I was napping on Alice's bed in her apartment, but whoever I was in my dream (maybe a 7 yr old black girl?), I was in a room I have never ever been in before. Now that I think of it, it hearkens to one of the guest rooms in Arthur's old old house, but the furniture was never arranged like that. Anyways, so I read this news article online the other day about how electrical stimulation of a certain part of the brain might cause you to sense a presence behind you ("shadow person") mimicking your movements and interfering with your actions. I think that's what inspired this. There was some string of kidnappings, and my character was experiencing one of them. In it, she was definitely sedated (probably inspired by the fact that some thieves drug you so you don't wake up while they steal stuff... heard Alice talking about it the other day), but woke up anyway. She/I couldn't move, and there were little shadow hands under me trying to lift me off the bed and carry me out of the room. So I tried to make some noise, any noise, but it only came out as heavy exhalations.

Then more dreaming followed, inspired by the Golden Compass. There were characters from the book anyway. Only those characters seemed much less likely to succeed in escaping whatever danger was following them. Oh yes. I remember what that was. There was some ploy to kill this girl. And they knew she was going to be poisoned, but didn't know when or who would do it. All they knew was that the poison would be put on a needle and shoved up her nose. This prospect was totally scary, I promise.

But anyway, when I sleep, it's not exactly like resting. It's like, my eyes are closed, but my mind is still going crazy-go-nuts, and it's like I'm reading/watching tv/surfing the internet, whatever. Only I have no control over what it is that I'm doing. So no matter when I wake up, I feel like I never actually slept at all.

So that's probably one factor.

Anyway, better work on some lessons.

Uptown Girl + Lesson angst

Waiting for my hair to dry so I can pass out for many many hours.

I got back a little while ago from a little KTV excursion with Alice & her friends. KTV? That means karaoke actually. Something I discovered about myself: I can't sing Uptown Girl without a serious serious twang. I was like, whoa, all of a sudden from Kentucky. The place didn't have a wide selection of English songs (and no one else really knew any anyways), though I was able to jump in for part of a Jay Chou song I've heard before. I bet some of you have encountered it at bubble tea at one time or another. Alice put on "When I Fall in Love" for me, but another thing I discovere was that I know about 9 words of that song. Had some "black beer" that had a really nice toffeeish accent to it. Funny cuz I was just thinking earlier how much I missed darker beers.

It may be hard to imagine, but just try for a moment... I am soooo tired here. With more sleep and less work, I'm more exhausted on a daily basis in this country than I ever was at Cornell. I've been trying to figure out why. I mean... yes there was the Hohhot extravaganza, but that's not wholly unusual in essentials. Yesterday I had 5 hours worth of class, more or less back to back, and today I had 3 hrs... that doesn't seem to equate to any large amount of duress. So I dunno. Diet change? Also, my pseudo-ADD isn't really being fed, so maybe I'm just boring easily. Easily bored. Easy to be bored. Uh.


Anyways, about that 3 hr class this morning. Yesterday I taught 3-6 at the hospital, then 7-9 at the training center. My lesson really depended on the students interacting and taking off on vibrant flights of fancy and just making shit up. For a game. I like activities since they give me a chance to move around the room and not just lecture which is stupid. Well, activities/discussions have been working fine at the training center, but yesterday was my first day back in the hospital in ages. And there were 7 people in attendance. And perhaps the game was too complicated.

You see, these people are adults. We can do simple activities, if I want my classes to be inane. But, and I feel failure in this, I could NOT, no matter how many different words I used how many times, get them to understand the point of the activity. The idea was to make a prediction, trade it with someone else, assume that a period time has passed and the prediction has come true, and answer questions based on that. So like "you will be a successful mother," for a question like "what do you do in your free time," begets an answer like "oh, I read to my children and help them with their homework." Even if you are childless. Like myself (some of the students made me answer several questions according to this one).

The training center made it through the interview because I physically enacted the process a few times. The hospital did not make it through the trade. So I moved on and ended up with a ton of extra time. And an ice cream bar. Which makes teaching at a white board difficult.

So not the most successful lesson, I'll be making that note. Then I learned that my next class would be 9-12 today. So I got a bit nervous that I would be unable to plan a good lesson in time, and be stuck with two strike-outs in a row. And last night I was nigh incoherent. My last act before bed was to make a skeleton of a few of the related concepts I've been wanting to address but for which I've been unable to gather the right resources. I basically decided that since I have the ability to motor in the morning (waking up is the tough part, but I've done some good work at 5am), I'd just get all the lyrics, reviews, poems, videos, and so on in the morning.

This morning I got up at 6 and managed it all by 8:30. I had printouts and everything. A series of websites open on my laptop full of news and pictures and so on. Cuz this was a fucking 3 hour class. Who even does that?

I opened with the poems. First one by Robert Frost. The idea is that poetry from that era, with ample examples from Frost, have a definite rhyme scheme, so you can always be sure that certain words are always going to sound alike. This was a good check for my kids last year (not to be underestimated for being 8th graders) for pronunciation for some words that looked different. More importantly, poems like Stopping By Woods have lines with very specific syllable allowances and predictable, consistent stress patterns. This is not a luxury that speakers often get, right? And Chinese speakers especially add random syllables here and there and get confused about multisyllable stress. So I just wanted to show them a way to practice.

That was sort of to harken back to the last class. Then I followed up with a modern poem that I found. Full of nice descriptors, idioms, and metaphor. Also an easy concept to grasp. Here I wanted to show what poetry has become-- you know, a vehicle for expression and so on. And you know, a ton of our language, things we say all the time, take cues from devices that you find everywhere in poetry. No one learns figurative language straight off in an esl class, and I noticed when we did song lyrics that the whole metaphor/symbol/allusion thing wasn't getting across. I suspected that they were taking things too literally, so I just wanted to give them an introduction to that.

Then a Guster song. One, trying to pinpoint what type of music they're willing to listen to. Would have discussed the lyrics if we had time (when we actually did, I'd forgotten that I hadn't done that, so that was my flub). But mainly I wanted them to talk to me about the song. As an example I added a clip of a music snob review of the album it came from. No expectations of them understanding this piece, because music reviews can be pretty dizzying (this one was a bit kinder though). But I wanted to show them what loaded words are like, and why we use them, and that we use them all the time. Adjectives that we commonly use, and adjectives that the dude made up on the spot. Different ways that we use words that have certain technical meanings ("bipolar" for example). I was hoping for some discussion of the song. But, silence.

By that time, I wanted to change the pace a bit, so I broke out some movie trailers for The Lake House, The Guardian, and Stranger than Fiction. Little discussion arose, so I finished with a short National Geographic video of salt mines and desert crossings. I will admit now that iTunes has been a nice resource for free stuff. This was the point that Connie came back in.

I may have mentioned her before, but she is in charge of this class, and when she's in the room, she dominates it. You know... I like her. I like most people. But ooh. I'll get to that later. Anyway, she was called out at the very beginning of class to identify some dead birds, so she basically missed everything before the salt mine video.

Then, because yesterday she'd said something about American food being simple (to the effect of hamburgers and hot dogs), I had some menu examples and photos of restaurant food. Unfortunately, she and her son were the only ones from yesterday's class to realize that this was a response to something.

After that, she was called out again. So I decided that for the last 30 min we could go back to the review and define some words so they could read it later. No one asked me any questions! So I just went through and defined a lot of things I thought they might not be able to interpret on their own (right every time). Connie came back in and looked at the review. With 10 minutes left she gave me a criticism of my lesson. She said that I jumped from topic to topic so much in one lesson that it wasn't good.

So criticism. Whatever. I need that. But actually she wasn't in class. Additionally, she did this during class time in both Chinese and English. She said it nicely, but I was still like... thanks? For nothing! I don't know, but I just feel inherently that I would have done it differently. The thing was, she asked the other students if they agreed, and none of them said anything! It would have been more helpful if someone had agreed. Or if someone had said that the lesson was helpful. Any response. As it is, I have yet another opinion from Connie about how class should be.

Now, I have my own criticisms about the class. Having gone through it point by point, I see where maybe I could have expanded on something. It's just something I didn't see until now. But also, it's clear that for the hospital class, I'm having a lot of trouble facilitating discussion. The training center has great discussions-- it's a blast. I can ask them all the questions I want and lead them whatever direction, and they're responsive (except for yesterday, when they thought I was crazy). This troubles me because I can't yet figure out why this is happening. I'm going to e-mail their last teacher, Tevie, who's been great about answering my Baotou questions thus far. Apparently Connie loved her class. I've checked out Tevie's formula though, and it's like... nothing out of the ordinary. So she was a theatre major. And like 50. But still. I'm youthful and exuberant. Talk to me, dammit!

I mean, please don't get me wrong. The students are really awesome people. But they're not the best students. And by students, I mean, the role of the student. Like, you can be a good student by working hard, and they do. But I mean, when I am a student, no matter what my other classes have been like, when I place myself in a class, I understand that I am placing myself at the mercy of my teacher. If they want me to speak, I will speak. If they say that this is the way to learn something, I will try it. You know? They take the initiative to take this class. It's voluntary and it cost money. Why wouldn't they take the initiative to ask me questions when they don't understand something? Or to simply follow me when I try to lead them somewhere? I have never been in a class where the teacher was unable to get this same reaction. So I'm troubled. I can keep trying new techniques, but I really can't do anything particulary exciting or fun unless I know that they're with me. Or until they give me some response to tell me what they think is exciting or fun. I expected to have figured this out by now. I mean, whatever the problem is, it's mine-- not theirs. So I'm not blaming them. I'm just referencing their behavior to indicate that there is some failing in the way I approach them.

But I was still really steamed about the way Connie made her comment. I described the whole thing to Alice later, and she told me not to pay attention to it. You know, after our first full lesson there, she complained about the structure while another student told us how much she enjoyed it. Since then it's been really crappy trying to find a balance for them. Of course I'm going to consider it though. But it's like... I may have been jumping topic to topic, but those were just tools for me to teach a theme. I wanted to demonstrate the flexibility English has in describing things as subjective as music or feelings, and I wanted to show them common resources like poems and reviews-- places where we've picked up words and speaking skills. But I should have explained that more clearly at the beginning.

Also, and this shocked me back to reality, it turns out that Connie was partially basing this on the fact that the review didn't make any sense. As in, she thought that the review of the music was a review of the lesson. I forgot that a noun like that could be misinterpreted. Again, my fault. It's just not the easiest thing to assess just what words they know and what words they don't. I mean, they're doctors. They know "tuberculosis." Then again, she also missed that part of the lesson.

The worst is just the silence. I try to give them opportunities to emote and practice speaking, but they either just stare straight at me or anywhere else. During the poetry thing, I did get a lot of head nodding though. I didn't move on until I saw heads nodding-- since they were giving me that, I latched onto it.

It's not that I think they're being withholding for one reason or another. But in any case, I haven't been able to get what I want out of them yet, so it's back to the drawing board for Saturday.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Some more on the bird flu

As it is my greatest fear (or maybe greatest plausible fear), I checked around for the news.

Here's what Xinhua news service and the China Daily reported:

Nearly 1,000 chickens dropped dead from the flu and a crazy number were culled after them. The rest of the birds in the district are being innoculated, as I gather.

Additionally, it turns out that some of the doctors in my class have been busy throughout the holiday monitoring all fever patients for any connection to the outbreak. Connie, the doctor in charge of the class, said there's nothing to worry about. It was really weird to have the news confirmed by an actual doctor.

For anyone actually interested in flu news, another outbreak was reported in Yinchuan, the capital of neighboring Ningxia autonomous region.

Mmm, that's all. I'm way sleepy, man.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Honest to goodness US citizenship

Quick update: my new passport is at last in my possession. I just signed it and everything! No visa yet though, we're taking care of that on the 8th. Interesting fact though, the photograph seems much larger than I remember. In any case, it's a more recent photo, and looks a lot more like me. Strangely enough, it's also a much more attractive passport photo, which I wouldn't have believed possible. But like, the color of the paper and then the curvy lines running through it give it the illusion of looking nicer than the same photo on other documentation that I also now have.

I was also given my foreign experts certificate, and a certificate for a clean bill of health. Apparently after all that trouble, the docs were about to certify me as a Chinese citizen, but Alice caught that mistake. One good thing that came of this: I now know my blood type. For anyone who'd care to help me remember, it's B. Also, I know that at the time of the exam, I was still disease free and unquarantinable!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A request

Hey, would someone, in their free time, please pass along some news of the US? I can check out the sites, but it's different from being there and knowing what everyone's talking about. So like, what's going on? Also important, how's the weather? Seriously.

FREAKY news (5 stories to chill my bones)

Like the title says...

This morning, I got up early (these days, 8:45 is early) so that we could go to the park on our last day off. I was expecting a day of relaxation, maybe some drawing, some reading, some lesson planning, and maybe shopping. I was checking my e-mail and sorta eavesdropping on Alice's phone conversation, but couldn't really figure out what was going on cuz I was only sort of paying attention.

Apparently, Russ's apartment was broken into last night. The thief came in through his bedroom window, on the 4th floor no less, and took his laptop, cell phone, and wallet, though his credit cards were left behind. Holy shit, right? I mean, he was asleep right there, next to the desk where everything was. He didn't notice anything until this morning.

By the time we got over there at 9:30, he had already reported it all to the police. Also, he had decided that he's leaving the country ASAP. And I was like... "wha..?" I mean, I'd sort of stated to myself on the way there that if my laptop goes, that's it and I'm coming home. But also... my laptop is maybe worth 100 times more to me. To be fair, he sort of doesn't know how to use a computer, and apparently it was only $400. The phone was about Y500, and he only had about Y600 in his wallet. In Alice's estimation, my initial loss was much heavier, so she and her family don't really understand why he wants to leave.

Ok, well, someone broke into his apartment and walked around his room while he was in it-- probably armed also. That, I understand, would shake anyone up. I mean, what exactly would he have done if he'd woken up? His assessment was that this country is too dangerous and he won't stay here any longer than he has to.

But. On the other hand. Robberies occur everywhere. He feels like he's being targeted, and I sort of understand that feeling-- after having shit stolen, I've been REALLY aware of how everyone around me might be about to take the rest of my stuff, but some of that is irrational too. Because you can take precautions, and the truth is that he left himself open by leaving his bedroom window visibly open.

Granted, it may never have occurred to him (as it never occurred to me) and anyone would scale 4 stories to commit a theft. I looked out his window today and the wall is perfectly smooth and completely inaccessible. Except, the apartment below had grating on the windows, like what we have here, and the one down and to the left of that did also, and so on-- so the dude(tte) leap-frogged from grating to grating to get up there. Which is still a feat, but now comprehensible.

So I dunno. We think it might be the shock speaking. I personally think it's not worth leaving the country for after we've just gone through all this trouble and Liu finally got our foreign experts certification. I mean... I'm a lot younger too and getting along a little better I think. I can see how maybe little things might have been doing it slowly-- like, he often doesn't understand me when I speak to him, I can't imagine what communicating with everyone else is like. Sometimes he just doesn't even try. So yeah I dunno. We'll see what he decides.

Meanwhile, we're a bit worried because if he goes, so probably will the high school classes. Which is not what I want. I've only gotten to see them once and I adored them. I will be way sad if I can't work with them more (which, hi, is sort of why I came here). And then all the hospital and training center classes will also be bequeathed to me.

The second freaky thing. I don't think anyone told Russ this, but I overheard them talking about it. Basically, if he weren't a foreigner, the police probably wouldn't have had any time for this case today. This is because somewhere in this district (I think) a family was murdered last night and they're all tied up with that.

The third freaky thing. On our way back from lunch, we passed an intersection and I heard the taxi driver point out something very very disturbing. Well, I was disturbed because this is my ultimate paranoia that was addressed. Apparently somewhere nearby they found chickens with the flu and had to kill them all. There were more details and some numbers, but the essence is here I think. Some of you maybe have heard me predict my own death from this illness, and I still believe that it's a likelihood. I asked Alice to make sure I heard correctly, and I had, but she seemed totally unconcerned. She assured me that the only cases of people with the illness have been in Southern China... the way that in the US we say that the only cases of people with the illness have been in Asia. So I'm not comforted a whole lot. I dunno if the windiness of this area is a good or bad thing in this case. But whatever. I'm still a little bugged out, but since no one else cares, I'll just... calm myself.

The fourth freaky thing. I need to plan two lessons for tomorrow, 5 hours in all, not anywhere yet in that, thanks, but anyways. I was looking for some good news articles that might present well, and decided to try The Week for some nice short summaries. So what does the internet do but flip shit at me. I got a page I've never in my life seen before. Some very high contrast colors and a no-nonsense box in the center basically stating something like "this is not your browser at fault. we did in fact understand where you wanted to go but we don't want you to go there. don't you dare try that again." So... I didn't. Which is why I can't tell you the exact text of that page. But yeah, for whatever reason it is not ok to try going to that website here.

The fifth freaky thing. Nothing that has happened to me personally. But I did find some articles on National Geographic about resurgent illnesses, specifically measles and polio. How they're going crazy in some developing countries in Asia, Central Asia, and Africa because of poor immunization coverage there. What really irritated me though is the idea that there are people who would declare immunization unsafe and convince others to decline immunization for themselves and their children. Some of the claims about vaccines being laced with HIV or sterilizers are out of the scope of my belief. I mean, don't people want to live? I'm just glad that philosophies or whatever have developed in the US that allow the science of immunization to be widespread and accepted. That's one thing I'm proud of, and I really do think that's a better way of life. I guess what I feel is that it wouldn't be a bad thing if that particular value were to spread worldwide.

Woo, I have an opinion.

As for the non-freaky parts of the day, there were a few. The park was really nice. I managed to do some artsy stuff there, but it sucks. I partially blame myself-- I wasn't feeling very detail oriented. But I also blame the paper, which was the only art-like paper I could find. Also, I sort of blame the pastels. But the pastels are weird. I got them for really cheap at the department store. There are 57 colors in the box, which is monumental. But then again, the box says "Happy Junior Artist" on it. And I thought, "youth?" If you flip the box over, there's a photo of a baby's hand. I mean this hand most likely belongs to someone under the age of 3. Also, they're "beyond non-toxic" and "environment friendly" and I'm thinking... art supplies that are non-toxic are sort of not worth it. I mean... sure, food dyes or like... fruit derivatives... but... not usually. So these OIL pastels are looking a lot like crayons. But the COLORS. I mean, the colors have names like "vermillon" (sic), "viridian," "oxide green," "cobalt blue," "ultramarine," "prussian blue," and like "dark carmine." Also, there's a "rose hadder," which I don't think I'd ever heard of until I looked at the back of this box, although now that Stephen King title makes more sense. But it was a pleasant way to spend the morning. Lots of mothers kept bringing their kids over to watch me draw... and people kept commenting when they walked by. It was... weird. But cool.

Then we ate at Yellow River a restaurant that serves western food that has gotten thumbs up from previous teachers, cuz I was craving pizza like mad (Phoebe and Joey were talking about it on Friends). Russ got the Chicago pizza... which ended up being a pizza with chili instead of tomato sauce. Really good though. I got tomato cheese, which was exactly that... also no sauce. But good. Alice went with the spicy chicken sandwich which was actually a cajun chicken sandwich that was really good (I tried some). The only other people there was a party of businessmen who ended with a Y600 tab. Whoa.

I have no idea how I spent the rest of the afternoon. I did take a 3 hr nap, I suppose, which has become the standard measure of time for me over the years.

And now I'm in a crunch preparing for two classes. I don't mind admitting that I get really nervous every time I have to do one of these. I understand this sort of makes me a mess a few times a week, but eh.

Watched the first of my Hohhot DVDs last night-- Top Gun. My first time ever watching that movie. I remember running in and out of the room with my cousins on various adventures while our parents had it on, but I absolutely never paid attention. I dedicated the viewing to Liz and Aki, the only two people to ever mention it to me, and am happy to say that I totally loved it. The theme was always my favorite song to play on the recorder in elementary school, but I was annoyed that they kept playing "Take My Breath Away," cuz it was almost camp (probably the nature of the song as it's evolved today, but still). Also Tom Cruise used to be real hot stuff and I never realized. I mean, I was in elementary school, but that hasn't stopped everyone, apparently. Ahem. And I've been a Val Kilmer fan since The Saint. Just sharing that. But the best was the fact that the DVD had all the extras on it. And there are a lot, though I was too tired to check them out so I don't know if they were really there or not. So that's crazy cuz that never happens.

Ok. Back to lessons, goddammit.

Monday, October 02, 2006

My living sitch

Yesterday was National Day, and in honor of it, we get a couple days off.

For those wondering, I have access to my own money again! I celebrated by taking part in the National Day sale at the department store-- by buying the pair of shoes that started it all.

But since we're just sort of sitting on our butts today, I felt it was time to tell you a little about my happy home here in Baotou. As I may have mentioned, it's a comfortable two-bedroom. It was very clean when I got here, all except for a sketchy black film coating the floors of both the washroom and the WC, which are separate rooms, and separated by... another room. It's hard sort of to identify what these rooms would be called, because of the way the kitchen is fragmented into these disparate parts, trisected by doors. But anyway, the front door opens into the living room facing south. Across from that is a little sun room in which there are a few dying plants and two cacti... one of which was long dead when we got here. This is the room where laundry gets hung and you can look out onto the street sort of from fenced windows. The living room is furnished with a coat rack/shoe rack/mirror, a wooden couch and two wooden chairs, (polished wood with cushions), and facing those is a TV stand and two matching short cabinets (upon one of which my laptop now rests), which I just opened for the first time (I didn't think they opened!). I type on the right cabinet, and next to me is a wonderful fridge.

On the same wall as the front door, next to the rack, is the door to the... hall/dining room/ breakfast nook. It's not really any of those things. On the left are the two bedrooms and the washroom. Straight ahead is the WC. And to the right is a card table where our snacks and water filter are. At a right angle to the WC is the kitchen proper. This is where the sink is, and also a roomy counter where all of our dishes are. There were no chopsticks when we moved in and we keep forgetting to pilfer them. I brush my teeth and wash my face in this room, because the first day it was just less sketchy than the washroom. At the end of the long kitchen is another sun room type thing with the stovetop. There's a small window near the ceiling that opens into the WC and it freaked me out the first time that I noticed it. I was all like... "why are those sounds so distinct??" Cooking sounds.

Um, so then the WC is just a toilet. A radiator. And some eye-level shelves (when you're standing, that is). There's a Chinese book on the radiator, and on top of that is where we keep the current roll of toilet paper. A note on toilet paper: here, certain brands have a remarkable elasticity that does wonders for efficiency but it sucks to tear.

As for our rooms, picture 3 walls making an open square. On the middle wall, you get the washroom. There's another sink in here, two-tap just like last year's in Muping. The shower is the same set-up as in Muping (the first apartment), with the water heating tank suspended high on the wall, only the shower doesn't spray directly into the toilet because there is no toilet. Again, it must be unplugged before use to avoid crispy circumstances. The shower head extents from a tap near the floor, which can be used to fill basins if necessary. The tank takes a little longer to heat if you forget to plug it in, which has happened once because I dislike plugging it right back after a shower because I just imagine myself completing a circuit what with the wet floor and all, and the wire's a bit frayed right next to the plug. And the outlet plate isn't really secured. My first shower there was sooo uncomfortable because the town was cold in those days. But it's gotten better and as far as I know, there's heating in the winter. The water temp can still be finicky though, a la Class of 1918, only the changes aren't as regular though more extreme.

Exiting the washroom, my room is on the right. I took the bigger one because I thought I'd eventually be living here alone. The bed's bigger. There's a weird mildewy smell sometimes, though I can't locate it. I've smelled most things in the room directly, and haven't discovered it yet.

Now, if you've been wondering who I mean when I say "we," and also who the other room belongs to, and if you haven't quite understoos who this Alice person is that I keep mentioning (no, I don't talk to an imaginary Alice Hsu and picture her leaving the apartment without me and leading me around the city for lunch and shopping)... let's amalgamate these ideas. The other room belongs to Alice, Mr. Liu's niece, a history masters student on her 3rd year at Inner Mongolia U. She doesn't have to be present at school this year, so that means she can hang around here and help her uncle out. I thought she was, like, working for him, but apparently she's not actually getting paid. Which seems not right, cuz she does a ton. Anyway, because this apartment is newly rented-- none of the English teachers have ever lived here before, and Russ got the apartment next-door to Mr. Liu's, which is 2 blocks west, they thought I'd feel safer and adjust better if they assigned Alice to live with me for a while. It really has been nice, I was really worried I'd never meet anyone my age to talk to, and her English is great. So we watch movies and Friends, shop, and chat, and it's fun. She's way better to hang out with than Russ, shhhh.

That's it for the apartment. It's on the 5th floor of the building, no elevators, duh (visitors tend to be breathing heavily, and sadly, so do we), and the entrance is like the closest to the exit gate of the living district.

If you're still making fun of me for using the word "sitch," whatever, I've been wanting to use that somewhere ever since I saw School of Rock the first time.

Time to find diversions!